Service Dogs Europe

Every day last week, Joe Duffy spoke on
about an organisation based in co. Louth called
Service Dogs Europe.
I’d heard about it before, but not in any major detail. I listened to the show last week, to all the people who called in with their experiences of this organisation , and I can’t stop thinking about it since.

Service Dogs Europe claims to train assistance dogs for people with autism, hearing difficulties and a variety of physical disabilities and medical conditions. They train dogs to alert people to seizures and for people who are diabetic. They seem to train dogs for everything except guide dogs! Unlike Irish Guide Dogs, Assistance Dogs Ireland and My Canine Companion who all train dogs for children with autism, and Dogs for the Disabled who provide dogs for people with physical disabilities in Ireland, Service Dogs Europe do not have a waiting list, so dogs are available to families much quicker. But unlike the other organisations, SDE is not a charity, so people pay up to 7000 euros for one of these dogs. People can choose a puppy from the puppy program, which lives with the family until a certain age when it is taken to SDE to be trained for a few months. Families can also choose an adult dog provided by the organisation, or give their own dog there to be trained.

Henry Fitzsimons is the CEO, head trainer, and only board member of Service Dogs Europe. He has two sons on the autistic spectrum, and wanted to train dogs to help people like them. He has 25 years experience training dogs, but I can’t seem to find a list of his exact qualifications online. As far as I can tell, his trainers come from all over the world, so I don’t know their qualifications either.
Henry Fitzsimons states that their dogs are trained to the same standards as Assistance Dog International (ADI), but they clearly aren’t. They aren’t even registered with the ADI, who inspect all service dog training organisations thoroughly. So that’s the problem. This organisation is a scam!

When parents contact Service Dogs Europe, they are promised a well-trained dog that will help change their child’s life. If they can raise the money, they won’t have to go on a waiting list of up to five years, so of course this sounds perfect. But it is far from that, according to the majority of callers to the Joe Duffy show. These dogs turn out to be no more than very expensive pets, who in many cases aren’t even housetrained. People have reported their dogs coming back from training in worse condition than they were sent, fearful, underweight, badly behaved, aggressive, and in one case actually biting the child it was apparently trained to assist. I only heard two callers who had positive experiences, but they had only owned their dogs for a number of weeks, and the dog hadn’t been sent back for it’s formal training yet. Many people who avail of these dogs come from the UK, and there were questions about whether these dogs were even brought from Ireland legally.

Parents of children with special needs will do absolutely anything to help their child. They are some of the bravest, most determined people I’ve ever met. Sometimes these parents are vulnerable, and can be easily led by promises of something that could change their family’s life, which is what Henry Fitzsimons promised them. These parents are under stress, desperate to find anything that will help, so maybe they didn’t do enough research. Henry can probably talk the talk, although funny enough he was unable to talk to Joe Duffy last week and had a colleague to do his dirtywork. His website may look professional, though I don’t think it reads professionally at all in places. When you visit his training place, you have to arrive at a specific time, and are frowned upon if you come unexpectedly or early. People talk about always only seeing the first two kennels closest to the main entrance. When you leave with your dog, you may be forced to write a testimonial about the benefits of the organisation, even though you have hardly had your dog home, and haven’t seen anything that it was trained to do yet. When you have problems with your dog after training, Henry will offer more training. When that doesn’t work or if you don’t want it, you’ll be told that the dog just wasn’t right, or that it was your fault and he’ll offer you another dog. If you ask for your money back you’ll basically be laughed at.
What these parents are unaware of is that it is impossible to train a dog so young to assist somebody in the way that Service Dogs Europe say they can. Assistance dogs are always at least 18 months before they qualify, and undergo intensive training. It is impossible to train a service dog within a couple of months. They aren’t mature enough yet.
SDE use dogs from breeders, but I bet they don’t pay much for them. They also use dogs which are donated or come from rescues, where they have no idea of their history. SDE are expecting to put these dogs, after little or no training into families with young children, to keep them safe. This is devistation waiting to happen!
Henry Fitzsimons also runs a website called
Let’s Go Fundraise
where you can set up a page for people to raise money for your service dog. But of course when it doesn’t work out, they don’t get their money back.

As if all this wasn’t bad enough, Henry Fitzsimons also runs a dog training facility called
Top Dog Training
where owners leave their dogs for two weeks to be trained. People spoke of how they left their dogs their at a cost of hundreds, had no updates in between, and returned to find no improvements in the dog’s behaviour. Again dogs were in poor condition, fearful and aggressive, with one client having to subsequently have her dog put to sleep. Any worthwhile dog trainer will tell you that it’s impossible to successfully train a dog without teaching the owner how best to interact with the dog too, so leaving a dog with someone for two weeks will not work at all. This is another scam!

As a guide dog owner, and someone who benefits from an assistance dog on a daily basis, I’m outraged that an organisation like Service Dogs Europe exists in Ireland, and that people have been too afraid to speak up and do nothing about it. This affects all assistance dog owners, regardless of where we were trained. It is easy to print up a certificate that looks professional, and if people don’t know any better, they think it’s real. Assistance dogs have access to all public places. If a badly trained dog from SDE comes into a restaurant and misbehaves, the owner has every right to refuse the next person who comes in with a dog. That could be me, or somebody else with a perfectly trained, well behaved dog from a reputable organisation. People often tar everybody with the same brush, so if they see a poorly behaved dog, they think they are all the same.

Henry Fitzsimons needs to be reported and stopped. His businesses need to be closed down, and he should be banned from working with animals. What he is doing is not only cruel to animals, but to parents, families, children with disabilities, and anybody who uses an assistance dog.
People need to ask questions.
People need to stop bringing their dogs to his training facility. Don’t be fooled by the lies on his website.
Make sure that breeders do not donate or sell dogs to him.
If you hear anybody mentioning this organisation, make sure they know the truth before making life even more difficult for their families.
Share this post, and please do anything you can to help spread the word about the corruption that is Service Dogs Europe in Ireland.



17 thoughts on “Service Dogs Europe

  1. That is awful. It’s hateful seeing people trying fleece money from the vulnerable and those who are desperate to improve their children’s lives. As well as making this known, the best thing is to support those charities who provide proper training for both dogs and owners, with responsible breeding programmes. To be honest i never knew about assistance dogs other than guide dogs until i started sponsoring guide dogs – not least due to meeting the wonderful OJ – but since then i have seen the wonderful work they do. Last week’s Joe Duffy shows, whilst rightly highlighting the abuses, will also give some people the excuse to not donate. Let’s all find a proper, responsible organisation and send them a couple of quid – even Irish Guide Dogs.

  2. I think that Irish Guide Dogs and the other charities that are training assistance dogs should be stepping up now to protect the dogs that they are training. To just repeat your point Jennifer, if a restaurant or any such public place was to have a bad experience with a dog and that dog has been trained by this mentioned organization, the public place may then refuse entry to the next person who is coming in with their assistance dog on the basis of their previous experience. The one thing that a Guide Dog owner doesn’t have to worry about is this kind of thing happening as this organization is not claiming to train Guide Dogs and so there is only one training facility for Guide Dogs in Ireland. I would hate to see a situation where a family or a parent with a child is going to start having problems taking their dog places as a result of this ridiculous situation.

  3. That is disgraceful. The first i heard of this was a text from a non guide dog owning and a non animal person. He even said it was a scam. Is there nothing that can be done about this charliton? Perhaps a petition? I pity those poor families who have had a dog and it not work. Plus the amount of money involved as well.

    I think this should be shared as far and widely as possible. Very very sad indeed that he feels the need to do this, all for his own benifit. Can i share this?

    • Hi Wayne
      I haven’t heard of anybody who was successful in getting money back yet. Sorry I can’t help, but hopefully something will work out for your friend.
      I think this organisation will be under a lot of investigation now, and hopefully people will be refunded and compensated.

  4. Hi we are one of the families affected by this company they retain are sons 6,000 euro that we fundraised and they took his dog and then sold her to a different family they remove any neg comments / reviews so when people look this company up all you see is the good stories and one is actually my son which they refuse to take down even doh he doesn’t have his dog anymore

    • Michael, I am sorry for you and for your son. Its not a nice situation for people to be in. I have heard recently that this organization is back up and running but only taking calls via a UK number. You should get on to the office of the Data Protection Commissioner here in Ireland as you do have rights with regard to forcing them to remove content about your family that is on their website or other outlets without your permission.

    • So sorry to hear that Michael. I hope these thieves get what they deserve.
      Definitely look into what Nicky said about your information being online. Surely something can be done about that at least.

  5. I have an 18 week old puppy from SDE, and I’m super scared and don’t know what to do with all this – it’s difficult to work out the truth from the lies. The assistance dog laws in the UK are crummy and need updating – technically you do not have to be registered by ADI to qualify as a service dog trainer under these laws. Everything sounded really good when I applied for my puppy – there is a supportive documentary by the BBC on their site and a cute film about a solicitor who has a assistance puppy – so everything looked legit. I haven’t been able to find any definitive proof of illegal actions by the company (although their are rumours of not using passports/fake microchips/dodgy breeders etc) but I was deeply concerned when my puppy arrived covered in a littermate’s diarrhoea and with earmites, with no breeder records – the trainer was friendly but did not speak english well and did not seem very clued up on training. I don’t think we will learn the exact facts until an investigation is done on the company. My puppy and I have bonded really well and I love him dearly but I’m very worried as to whether he was mistreated/not properly cared for – especially on the trip from Ireland.

    • I really hope your puppy is a success. I would be very concerned if a dog didn’t arrive in good condition, but hopefully that’s the only negative thing you will experience from this company. Just make sure you’re totally happy with the service you are receiving before you pay any more money.

      • I was very concerned and asked my vet and SDE about this. I have a long-term severe mental illness that has made it very difficult for me to have the courage to ask enough questions to SDE, especially now they seem to be getting angry at people who make complaints. I am just very scared at the process. I have paid £2000 but will not be paying anymore as I am not continuing with SDE because I cannot trust their services anymore and have already withdrawn from the programme, luckily they are letting me keep my puppy but they will keep the money.

      • That’s what frustrated me most about the whole thing. They are taking advantage of people who already have difficult lives, and really need these dogs to help them. It is stressful enough trying to find money for well-trained dogs, so you shouldn’t have to experience other problems as well.
        I think you have made a good decision, and better to be safe than sorry. I’m sure your puppy will grow up to be a great dog and a great companion.

  6. This man is a fraud he conned me out of 1800 euro for a dog to help with my ASD son the dog growled and was aggressive towards my three sons and when I returned the dog after a few months my money was lost. They wanted me to keep the dog caged at all times how does that work when the child needs it he would not return my calls so I travelled yet again from Donegal to Louth and he his like a coward in a nearby shed and then fled. This man is not to be trusted we were totally scammed all for the love of our ASD son. A master con artist

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